The (Rapid) Rise of Slow Fashion: How UGA Students are Sewing Sustainability

Why it matters: Environmental consciousness is on the rise and more consumers and producers of fashion are considering the ethical implications of supporting fast fashion. To combat this, student artists Calista Bruker, Kristen “Rise” Joseph and Nick Edwards are creating slow crochet and sewn designs to inspire others to pick up a creative hobby or choose an ethical brand.

Acrylic, cotton, linen and polyester threads weave the textiles that hang on the hallways of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. These textiles are created by the fabric design students at the University of Georgia who are the next generation of fashion designers. In response to the ills of fast fashion, student designers aim to create clothing that their customer will hold on to forever. 

As environmental consciousness and “slow fashion” become widely accepted by the mainstream, consumers and producers alike choose sustainable creation instead of defaulting to fast fashion brands that dominate the market and global landfills. Slow fashion is a good alternative to the wasteful consumerism of fast fashion. 

Student artists Calista Bruker, Kristen “Rise” Joseph and Nick Edwards can inspire others to pick up a creative hobby or choose an ethical brand when buying clothing.

Students + slow fashion

Student work cycles on the white walls of Lamar Dodd for critiques and exhibitions. Calista Bruker’s screen printing class displayed their work outside their classroom following a project about religious themes. Her orange and black painting stands out against the pastel collages of her peers. Her fabric is moody and dark in contrast to the sweet, soft-spoken artist that made it.

Calista Bruker, a third-year graphic design and fabric design student, stands next to her screen printing project in the Lamar Dodd School of Art in Athens, Georgia on April 7, 2021. (Photo / Laura Lenz)

Bruker, a junior studying in graphic design and fabric design at the University of Georgia, plans each project with sustainability in mind. She began researching textile impact on the environment after she learned about the zero waste movement. 

“I don’t want to make something that’s made just to be thrown away,” Bruker said. 

Unfortunately, most clothing is thrown away, even if it is donated to thrift stores. According to Green America, over 80% of unwanted clothing is sent to landfills or is burned, processes that emit harmful greenhouse gasses and trap plastic clothing in landfills. 

The fast fashion industry also has a massive effect on our oceans. Nearly one-third of microplastics in the oceans are from synthetic clothing materials. According to the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, the fast fashion industry is responsible for one-tenth of the world’s carbon emissions which deplete the ozone layer and raise global temperatures.

The long-lasting impacts of clothing production and the cost of materials are factors Bruker grapples with when creating projects. Acrylic, a synthetic fabric, is made from plastic and will never degrade, but it is cost-effective for a student who has to buy their own materials. Cotton is a water-thirsty fabric, but is more biodegradable than synthetics. Linen and bamboo, Bruker explained, are preferable for their trendy aesthetic and lesser environmental impact but are expensive for a student designer. 

Small Business Success

Kristen “Rise” Joseph poses outside the Finley Light Factory in Athens, Georgia on April 27, 2021. Joseph is an artist in residence at the collective. (Photo / Laura Lenz)

Like Bruker, Kristen “Rise” Joseph considers her customer’s closet when creating each garment. A senior studying psychology at the University of Georgia, Joseph’s business, Creations by Rise, is focused on producing garments people will want to wear over and over. 

“I’m really thinking about longevity with my items because I don’t want people to just like, wear my top once or wear my purse for a couple months and then toss it in the trash,” Joseph said. “I really want it to be something that they hold on to for however long they choose to.”

Joseph has close relationships with her clients and considers their budgets when pricing each item. Most of her items, which consist of bucket hats, pillows, bags and tops, range from $12 to $50.  

When the pandemic hit last March, she picked up crochet as a creative outlet. Joseph has created bucket hats, bikinis and other accessories out of yarn and began selling items in July. Since turning her passion into a business, Joseph has sold online and at local farmer’s markets and even had her clothing featured in a music video. 

Despite her success in the first months of her business, Joseph was shocked when she won the Bonfire ATL fashion show on Jan. 30. 

“I never expect people to take crochet seriously because they see it as a hobby,” Joseph said.

Joseph is an artist in residence at the Finley Light Factory , a co-working space for marginalized artists in Athens. Her studio space, a table covered with colorful creations, is the area where she creates. Beside the table stands a mannequin that displays her spring Fashion Design Student Association look: a two-piece bikini top and matching skirt in pastel blues, pinks, greens and white.  After graduation, Joseph plans to pursue her business full-time with the goal of having a storefront to sell her art.

A mannequin displays a two-piece rainbow crocheted outfit in Kristen “Rise” Joseph’s studio space at Finley Light Factory in Athens, Georgia on April 27, 2021. This outfit walked in the Fashion Design Student Association spring fashion show on April 22, 2021. (Photo / Laura Lenz)

Quarantine Hobby to TikTok Fame

The COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns and increased time at home, as well as time to pick up a craft. Nick Edwards, a third-year psychology and graphic design student at UGA, began crocheting last spring when UGA cancelled his study abroad program in Paris. What began as a continuation of weaving projects has grown to multiple crocheted clothing and art pieces. 

Since then, he has created colorful pieces that have gone viral on TikTok. His most viewed video, a 15-second clip of Edwards sitting in his car chatting to the camera, has amassed over 18,000 likes. The video features a pastel baby sweater that combines blue, green and white yarn to replicate the sky. 

@nickedwrds

local boy peaks! caught on cam! not clickbait!!!

♬ Elevator Music – Bohoman

Edwards has over 1,700 followers on TikTok and an online community of crocheters that offer encouragement. Edwards views crochet as a relaxing hobby. While he had garnered online attention for his art, he explained he doesn’t plan on selling crocheted items. 

“At least for now, it’s more of a personal expression tool. I definitely want to continue making that choice,” Edwards said. 

Nick Edwards, a third-year studying graphic design and psychology at the University of Georgia, holds his original crocheted pieces in his apartment in Athens, Georgia on April 12, 2021. Edwards began crocheting during the COVID-19 pandemic to pass the time and now has viral fame on TikTok. (Photo / Nick Edwards)

His favorite sweater, reminiscent of children’s classic “A Bad Case of Stripes,” is a multicolored masterpiece. The kaleidoscope of colors swirls from the center of the chest through the sleeves.

butterfly effect

Slow fashion is clearly having a moment. With thrifting trends and DIY upcycling inspirations online. Small creators and business owners benefit from the surge in slow fashion interest.

Each consumer choice impacts the demand for slow fashion and ethical designers like Bruker, Joseph and Edwards can continue to do what they love: create.


How I wrote this story:

Why did you choose this topic? During quarantine, like many others, I learned a new skill. I used a combination of YouTube tutorials, TikToks and a lot of scrap yarn to make a scarf.  While learning to knit, I came across the vibrant, collaborative community of novice and expert knitters, and realized a curious pattern. From trending TikToks about viral clothing modifications like upcycling, DIY upgrades and crochet tutorials, to Second Daughter Ella Emhoff being tapped for a professional modeling agency after releasing a five-piece knit collection, the market for slow fashion is clearly having a moment. These viral moments encourage others to try out the trends at home, and in my pursuit to learn how to knit I discovered a vibrant community of student fiber artists in Athens, Georgia. Student organizations like Fair Fashion UGA, Fashion Design Student Association, students in textile design programs and independent artists alike are passionate about fashion and creating it ethically.

What did you learn while writing this story? I learned a lot about reporting. My source-search involved reaching out to friends in the fashion design community at UGA as well as classmates. I tried to use Twitter more frequently to promote this piece and establish my voice. I really like writing about things I have personal experience and expertise with because I feel confident in my interviews. In my future stories, I want to consider if I’m the right person to tell the story.

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